Thursday, February 6, 2014

12 Years A Slave

*Nominated for 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture.*

When you sit down to watch certain movies, you know in your heart of hearts that film is going to be extremely emotional and powerful, especially if you watched the trailer a few times beforehand. Then you read the shocking account in a memoir of the same name and it's then and only then, that the power and emotion is as vast and incredible as it is in 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave tells the incredible story of Solomon Northrop, a born-free black man living in Saratoga, New York.  Northrop is a respected businessman, musician, and father of two.   When Solomon travels to Washington, D.C. with two other men who have offered him a job as a fiddle player, he is kidnapped and sold into slavery.  The film does not hold back on the severity of slavery and the torture he endured. There are even moments when the camera is fixated on some of the acts of violence and some of those moments last minutes.  I thought this made the scenes even more realistic for the viewers, which can almost be difficult to watch.

The is the performance of a lifetime for Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012, Salt, American Gangster).  He is so good and I can only hope to see more of this caliber in the future, even though I am sure the movie shoot was an exhausting and even painful experience for him.  Actually, I know it was hard for him because he made you feel his pain through the screen.  I really want to say that this is one of those as you've never seen him before instances for Paul Giamatti, but looking through his list of movies (and I should have known this already), the man is most definitely a chameleon.  His role as Freeman, the man who first buys Northrup in New Orleans to sell him to wealthy plantation owners, is a short role but a very effective portrayal of a man in the slave trade business in 1841.  The expressions on his face are hardcore and almost haunting.  Michael Fassbender has made my choice for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award a more difficult decision.  Anyone who knows me and has read my review on Prometheus knows he is definitely one of my favorites in the business right now.  At first I thought his portrayal of Edwin Epps, the second plantation owner Northrup is sold to, could rival DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, but alas, this was a different kind of badass evil.  It is almost like he is troubled by it where Candie enjoyed the hell out of it.  Either way, Fassbender's brooding intensity was splashed all over the 35mm film.

Playing Epps' wife Mary in an awesome stoically chilling performance is Sarah Paulson, who is equally amazing in one of my favorite shows on right now, American Horror Story.  Mistress Epps is a stone cold woman and Paulson's portrayal is damn near freezing. Making her big screen debut is Lupita Nyong'o, portraying Patsey, Epps' "favorite" worker on the plantation.  He showered her often with the only kind of attention his demented mind is able to give, but of course this does not sit well with the mistress of the house.  I can shower her with all kinds of adjectives praising her Academy Award nominated performance but all I am going to say is this actress now has a long, amazing career ahead of her.

The film itself is a fine, very fine American historical drama chronicling a very dark time in our country's history.  But for some people to say the movie is "too much" or "goes too far," you cannot sugar coat anything that happened then.  Also, those people apparently did not read Northrop's 1853 memoir because it does not hold any punches and neither does director Steve McQueen.  Yes, you will be in awe of the performances and the movie itself, shocked and saddened by what you are watching on screen but just remember, at least you are not in the position to write the same kind of memoir.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

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